The Comedy of Errors
York Shakespeare Project
Friargate Theatre, York
After a steady but conventional start with Richard III, followed by an interesting and enjoyable Shrew, the York Shakespeare Project has now got really into its stride with The Comedy of Errors. The Friargate Theatre is tiny (similar in a lot of ways to the Southwark Playhouse) and the audience is right on top of the actors, making for an intimacy which is well-suited to the play and brought out the best in the company.
The staging is simple and well thought-out - an arched entrance upstage right and another downstage left, and a wall with three doors (into the home of Antipholus of Ephesis, the Convent and the inn) along the back wall. Set left was a wheelie-bin in which one of the characters, one of the unnamed businessmen, first appeared in the one of the opening scenes. Why I do not know. Perhaps it was an attempt to liven up the slow scene-setting beginning to the play, but if so, it failed: it merely left me wondering why.
One the tedious business of the scene-setting was concluded - and the tediousness is Shakespeare's fault, not the company's - the play fairly rattled along with strong performances from all the principals, especially Tim Holman as Dromio of Syracuse, whose strong voice and mobile face captured every bit of the comedy. For once both sets of twins were convincing, although it does seem odd that the two Antipholi had differently coloured hair: something really should have been done about that.
But that criticism is quite minor compared to the strengths of the production. Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays and is probably the comedy which has the most immediate effect on modern audiences. The plot is basically simple (although convoluted!), with every opportunity for confusion over the presence of two sets of twins grabbed with both hands. The YSP did not let Shakespeare down!
The production moved quickly and so did the time, and what a great idea to finish with the cast singing "Always look on the bright side of life"!
Next up - in April 2004 - is Titus Andronicus. Now that will test their mettle!
Reviewer: Peter Lathan